Monday, January 3, 2011
UConn headed into December playing at a high level. They took a significant layoff for exams and it caused some rust to form on their game. Luckily they played UVMB, Fairleigh-Dickinson, Coppin State, and Harvard but in each game they struggled to get that November magic back. They then fell flat in their first road game in Pittsburgh and followed that up with a sluggish performance against Southern Florida. The freshmen found it hard to get any offense going and they couldn’t get jumpers to fall. Rebounding, which looked to be cured in November, appeared to be a question mark again. But the most despairing part of December was at the defensive end. Teams were able to get open jumpers at any time in half court sets.
Walker continued to play at a high level. Teams were focusing on bottling him up, but he still found ways to score. He has hit a three pointer in every game in December and has turned his jumper into a major weapon. His only weakness is his over aggressiveness which leads to off-balanced shots and turnovers in traffic. Defensively he has been solid and not fouling as much, but he is also getting beat backdoor. These are small knocks against an otherwise superb game, especially since he is about seventy percent of the entire offense.
Oriakhi remains inconsistent in December, having one solid rebounding performance in the month that being against Fairleigh Dickinson. This team will go as far as his game will take it. Without him being a force in the paint then UConn has no one to control there. He dominated in Maui but struggled against Pittsburgh and there is no telling which direction his game is going. He has improved his free throw shooting and has shown some post moves, but this team needs double digit boards each and every night from him and he didn't do it in December.
Napier has been the most consistent player behind Walker and Oriakhi. He hit a three pointer in every game but one in December. His ability to take over the point and move Walker to the two-guard has allowed Walker more touches and has opened up the offense. He is still overly aggressive on the defensive end, takes too many jumpers, and needs to dribble the ball without carrying it, but he is a major piece to UConn’s early success.
Lamb has shown a versatile game. While he is in a bit of a slump from deep, he has shown the ability to hit from there and has a nice mid-ranged game. He is having some problems defending and fighting through screens, leaving his man wide open jumpers.
Smith is in a major offensive rut. Nothing is dropping for him. He has all the tools to become a legit wing player, but he isn’t playing with a ton of confidence. This team just needs him to rebound, play solid defense, and take open jumpers in the flow of the offense, but he seems to be thinking too much.
Olander had an up and down month. He plays with a ton of energy, but sometimes does too much. He’ll foul a three point shooter, not block out on a free throw, create turnovers on bad passes and be out of position defensively. He still has a ton of upside and will be a solid player for UConn for the next several years, but for now he is searching for consistency.
Giffey struggled mightily. He last hit a three pointer five games ago. He has a nice stroke and just needs to keep shooting good shots and not dribble the ball. He also needs to help out on the glass. He has the length to make a difference in the paint.
Okwandu had a good month. He found ways to get involved on both ends of the court. He isn’t going to have double digits in any statistic but his hustle and energy on the court has led to positive plays. He is finishing plays off around the rim and is rebounding better.
Beverly has lost most of his minutes to Napier and Lamb. He isn’t making plays when he is on the court and is turning the ball over which is what this team doesn’t need. Coombs-McDaniel had a rough December, hitting three jumpers in the entire month. He did have a solid performance in the closing minutes of the USF game which helped seal the game, but his confidence is shaky. Wolf got some minutes and showed that he belongs, but he is a month behind everyone else and needs some practice time to get on the same page as everyone else.
While anyone would take UConn’s record at this time of year if they were asked two months ago, but this team has a chance to be special. All the talent is there and they just need to harness it. There are two major questions for this team to answer if they are going to improve. Will they compete better around the paint? Teams are feasting on mid-ranged jumpers and offensive boards. The other question is will jumpers begin to fall for anyone beside Walker and Napier? These are the same questions that needed to be answered entering this month and they have done nothing to answer them yet. With entering the meat of their schedule, they’ll have them answered for them. Hopefully they've been studying.